The Mist sat in his favorite of Ted Knight’s chairs and sipped some cognac. The past several weeks had transformed Andy Murphy. The money and wealth of the Knight estate were something that was magical to him. He thought it was the apex of his triumph over his arch-nemesis; it wasn’t.
More than anything else, his newfound wealth and prestige had given him respect and admiration. As the manager of the Knight Foundation, Murph had discovered that there was so much more to money than just having it. People sought him out, and it felt good.
He dedicated a new homeless mission in Opal City, and the gratitude was overwhelming. People he didn’t even know hugged Andy Murphy and thanked him. He was used to being looked at with fear and revulsion. Being looked at with respect and admiration was different entirely. The Mist found that he liked that feeling. Indeed, he craved it. It was as though he was Ponce de Leon, and he had discovered the fountain of youth. It was intoxicating.
“You realize that it cannot last, do you not?”
The Shade stepped from the shadows, his eyes looking menacingly at the Mist.
“Join me, won’t you?” the Mist replied as he poured another cognac. He proffered the glass to the Shade. “You are mistaken, old friend. I have succeeded. Everything is legal and above board. You have nothing on me. I, however, can have you arrested for trespassing.”
“How you must amuse yourself,” the Shade said as he took the glass from the Mist’s hand. “The day of reckoning is at hand. You will pay for your crimes, even if I am not the one who will administer the justice. I know you hypnotized Jules Black. I know you killed David Knight.”
“You do? Then where’s your proof?” the Mist replied. “Doctor Mid-Nite couldn’t seem to find any. The Opal police couldn’t prove that Jules had been unduly influenced. There is nothing you can do. I win.” He smiled snidely.
“There are forces at work here that you cannot comprehend. They will bring about your downfall, not I. Enjoy this while you still can. The time of endings draws nigh.”
The Mist stood up and threw his glass at the Shade, only disappearing into the darkness surrounding him. “No! It does not! I have finally triumphed over Ted Knight, and no one can take that away from me, do you hear? No one! Not you! Not the Justice Society! No one! Now get out of my house!”
The Shade tipped his hat to the Mist. “I shall take my leave of you, but know this: you have sown the seeds of your own destruction. No one will take this away from you. You are the cause of your own undoing. Contemplate that.”
As the Shade disappeared into the darkness, Andy Murphy changed into his Mist form and let loose a primal scream. A glass dropped out of the darkness and shattered on the floor.
Doris Lee Knight wiped the tears from her son’s eyes.
“How can you be here, Mommy? I don’t understand,” Jack asked as he looked into his mother’s eyes for the first time since he was five years old. She’d been taken from him far too soon.
“Jack, you are at one of the most important crossroads in your life, and you needed me. That’s why I’m here.”
“If it’s so important, then where are Dad and David? Even in death, they’re still disappointed in me, otherwise wouldn’t they be here, too?”
Doris frowned for a moment. “Sweetheart, your father and brother aren’t dead.”
“What? But Dad, he disappeared, and David… I saw… I mean…”
Doris smiled at her son. “Your father is on a wonderful journey, but he’s coming home soon. (*) I promise. I don’t know what happened to your brother, but I can assure you he’s not among the deceased.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Stars and Sliders: Slide Heil.]
“Yeah, well, that’s assuming this all isn’t some sort of hallucination,” said Jack. “I mean, the whole world turns black and white, and then you show up. Why? This is another of Pemberton’s stupid tests, isn’t it? You’re just a delusion cooked up by Brainwave, aren’t you?”
Jack started to yell at the walls, “You can stop this now. I figured it out! Nice trick, fellas.”
Doris touched her son’s shoulder. “Jack, this isn’t a trick. It’s really me.”
“Why? Why now? How can you even be here?”
“Jack, I told you. This is one of the most important crossroads in your life, and you needed me.”
“No, I don’t buy that. Where were you when David died? When Dad disappeared? When the freakin’ Mist took over everything that Dad ever worked for? Where were you? Where were you?”
Doris reached out to stroke her son’s face, but he pulled away. “Oh, my dear, sweet boy. You used to be so full of love and life. Why are you so angry?”
“Because my life is crap. Everyone I ever loved is gone. You. Dad. David. Terry. I’ve got nothing — nothing!”
“Jack, you still haven’t answered my question. Why are you so angry?”
“If you know so much, if you really are my mother, why don’t you tell me, huh?”
“Oh, Jack. I know why you’re angry. Believe me, I know, but you have to tell me. You have to say it.”
Jack turned away from his mother and cried, “No.”
“Jack, you’re never going to be able to handle the Mist if you let your anger get the better of you. You have to admit to yourself what you’re angry about.”
“Say it, Jack.”
“No, I said!”
Doris grabbed her son by the shoulders. “Say it!”
“Fine. You want to know why I’m angry. You abandoned me! You were my whole world, and when you died, it was like everything that was good in my life was gone. Dad never liked me. David was his favorite. Why did you leave me? Why?! I hate you! I hate you!”
Jack threw his arms around his mother and cried as more than a decade’s worth of frustration came pouring out.
“Oh, Jack, my dear sweet, I know. I know. I never wanted to leave you — ever. But I didn’t get a choice. Please forgive me, sweetheart. I never ever wanted to cause you any pain.”
For the first time in a long time, Jack managed a smile — a real one. “I know. I think, deep down, I always knew. Don’t be angry with me. I don’t really hate you. I love you more than anything else in the whole world.”
“I know that,” said Doris. “I’ve always known. I could never be angry with you, Jack. I’ve always been with you, but your anger kept me out. Your anger would have gotten you killed. That’s why I’m here now. I had to force you to acknowledge that anger that you couldn’t reconcile — the anger you had for the mother you loved. That’s what was tearing you up inside. Now, you can face the Mist as you should, as the hero I always knew you could be. I love you, son.”
“I love you too, Mommy. How long can you stay?”
“For a little while. Let’s go for a walk.”
Doris took her child’s hand, and they walked together for the first time in a long time.
Much later, Jack walked back into the world of color and ran smack into Sylvester Pemberton.
“Jack! Good God, where have you been? Ted and I have been worried sick!”
Jack was very confused. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Jack, you’ve been gone for three days!” cried Syl.
“Really?” said Jack with genuine surprise. “Wow. This will probably sound stupid, but I was with my mother.”
“Your mother? Doris died years ago.”
“Well, duh, Sherlock,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “She paid me a visit from the afterlife… I think.”
“Considering how crazy our lives are, I guess anything is possible,” Syl admitted. “It must have been a good visit if you were gone for three days.”
Jack put his arm around Syl’s back and smiled. “Yeah, it was.”
Sylvester wasn’t sure how to take this new attitude from Jack, but he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Will you see her again?
“She said I would. She said she’ll be back once a year to check up on me and make sure I’m OK.”
“Really? Do you know what day?”
“Yeah. Just like this year. She visited me on her birthday.”
For the first time, Jack felt confident about the future. He was Starman, and the Mist had better be ready for him.